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Letter from the editor | 77

Light upon our origin

When did man arrive in the Americas? The issue is polemic. And now, the results of a genetic study carried out by as team of researchers linked to nine Brazilian and one Peruvian center, promises to heat the debate. The research, which took as its base the profile of the mutations and the diversity of the so-called mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) of thirty native Indians of the continent, the majority pertaining to ethnic groups in Brazil, proposes that Homo sapiens reached Alaska, having come from Asia via the Bering Strait, around 21,000 years ago in a single migratory wave. This conclusion, as  Marcos Pivetta reports in the cover story of this issue, contradicts the classical theory of the colonization of the Americas, today hotly contested, according to which there were three migratory waves of Asian groups into the continent, the first of them around 12,000 years ago. But still in the realm of genetics, and here more specifically of genomics, it is worth highlighting the article about the advances obtained through different projects that make up of the Genome-FAPESP Program and of one of its offspring, Agronomical and Environmental Genomes (AEG), and especially the identification of 200 new genes of Schistosoma mansoni, which causes schistosomiasis, an illness typical of under-development, which affects 200 million people throughout the world, 10 million of them being in Brazil. In the Science section, with its movement between research that examines the present, projects the future or illuminates the past, it is worth calling the attention to the story about recent studies that attest to the importance of the earthquakes that have occurred over the last ten years for the formation of the Brazilian geological relief.

The intimate relationship between research and the possibilities for the socio-economic development of the country, appears with force in two articles in the section on Technology of this issue of Pesquisa FAPESP. In the first, Yuri Vasconcelos anticipates the minute revolution that might occur in the sugar and alcohol distilling mills of the country if they incorporate a new technology which, using the bagasse (leftovers), and without any alteration in the quantity of natural sugarcane used, secures an increase in the production of alcohol in the order of 30%. This is doubtlessly  an excellent piece of news when one debates, in a serious manner, the chances of re-activating the Pro-Alcohol Program, the program of the 70s that had was an excellent promise for national self-sufficiency in a renewable and low pollutant fuel, but which succumbed to strategic errors in its administration. The other report, making use of the opportunity of the recent inauguration of the first stage of an industrial unit from the company Embraer in the town of Gavião Peixoto, São Paulo, shows on what footing one can find the research projects that make up part of the program of Partnership for Innovation in Aero Space Science and Technology (PICTA), supported by FAPESP, which represents a fundamental contribution to the transformation of that region of the state of São Paulo into a large center of aeronautical development. Indeed, among the reasons by which Embraer finds itself among the four major aircraft manufacturing companies in the world, wagering on technological research is not, for sure, the least of them and this becomes clearer starting on page 72.

To wrap up, it is worth highlighting in this edition, in the Humanities section, the article concerning research into the sciences of religion, which reveals, even after the separation between the Synagogue and the Catholic Church, Christians and Jews maintained bilateral relations until the second century of the Christian era, within a communion up until now practically unknown.

And as well, there echoes through this edition the ringing in of the 40th anniversary of FAPESP, when the Foundation, after having been toasted by the State Symphony Orchestra, the OSESP, with a magnificently executed rending of Villa-Lobos, by way of the President of the Republic received a present that will increase considerably its ability to finance research in São Paulo.